As thousands of families prepare to apply for school places, figures obtained by The Times via freedom of information requests submitted to local authorities reveal that the number of applications based on exceptional medical or social grounds has risen 58 per cent since 2014, leading to complaints that more and more parents are attempting to bend the rules.
Although not all councils use the criterion, successful applications can provide a lifeline to those with genuine reasons for special consideration. These include serious illnesses such as spina bifida and cystic fibrosis, along with complex circumstances such as having recently lost a parent.
However, some parents have attempted to stretch the definition of exceptional medical or social needs to include factors such as proximity to a parent’s workplace and wanting to attend the same school as friends. Critics arguing that, if successful, such tactics can pose a threat to social mobility by pushing less advantaged yet perfectly eligible applicants to the back of the queue. Nevertheless, the Times found that, on average, only “10 per cent of applications were approved”.
Governors and trustees who are their own admissions authorities should be mindful of their obligation to ensure that their admissions criteria is clear, fair, objective and reasonable and that it complies with the Admissions Code.